Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley has come in for some almighty criticism over recent weeks and it would have surprised plenty when David Moyes started him in the centre of midfield against Arsenal last night.
The general view among United supporters at the moment is that while Cleverley protects the ball well in central areas, he doesn’t do enough going forward to rip apart the heart of an opposition defence.
He’s defended himself quite openly in the media, suggesting that he’s been made a scapegoat due to the struggles United have been forced to endure in Moyes’ first season in charge of the club.
That prompted several fans to attack him on Twitter, with the news yesterday that he’d been forced to close his account due to the volume and nature of the cyber abuse he was receiving.
So how did he get on against the Gunners?
He was tidy, played simple passes and generally held a good position in the centre but Juan Mata was clearly frustrated, and a little bit lost, out on the wing, eager to come inside and get involved with Cleverley and Carrick in the middle.
Only three players who started the game had a better passing success rate over the course of the match, disregarding the subs who came on late in the game who had better numbers due to less time on the pitch.
He got on the ball the same number of times as Antonio Valencia and only Michael Carrick, other than defenders, had more touches of the ball in the side across the whole match.
He worked hard for the team in the middle, which made life for his teammates slightly easier against an Arsenal side that always protects and uses possession well in all games.
Here’s what Manchester United fans made of his performance.
Moyes,cleverley and smalling have warranted many criticism that has come their way this season but yesterday was they don't— the OOMPH factor (@kavi_mg) February 13, 2014
Cleverley was tidy last night. He read the game very well. Maybe getting off social media will help him focus. Credit where due.— Alex (@RedCityOfficial) February 13, 2014
Not the most popular players but I thought Carrick & Cleverley were great tonight. Arsenal packing that zone but both positionally excellent— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) February 12, 2014
Cleverley been immense tonight easily our best player— Steve (@SteveAO1966) February 12, 2014
Cleverley there. Takes four steps forward, turns around, passes the ball six yards back. Yeah, I definitely see it now.— Iain Macintosh (@iainmacintosh) February 12, 2014
Nearly 7am and still can't sleep. I blame Moyes. And Cleverley!— Asad Ullah (@sadulla) February 13, 2014
#Cleverley buzzes about, gesticulating wildly at times, flailing his arms belatedly, either through poor timing or lack of wanting the ball— Jonathan Shrager (@JonathanShrager) February 12, 2014
There's been a fan running around on the pitch for 85 mins now and nothings been done about it #cleverley— Alex (@AlexHomer1991) February 12, 2014
image: © eschipul